Book Review: Battlestar Galactica – Unity

I used to love reading science fiction books as a kid. I my favorites were the Star Trek novels that continued the adventures of the starship Enterprise after the TV series and the movies had ended. These books came in handy especially when I moved from Southern California to Northern California as a kid. At that point, any other reality was much better than my own. But enough about that, let's get on to the book hand.

The new version of "Battlestar Galactica" has now spawned its own book series which is great for the fans who are impatiently waiting for Season 4 (the final season of the show) to start. The one I started out with (and of which I got 40 % off of thanks to an online coupon from Barnes & Noble) was "Unity" by Steven Harper. It follows the story of the Galactica crew as they rescue a Peter Attis from a Cylon escape pod. Peter is an iconic pop singing star, and I guess he is meant to resemble the Justin Timberlake of his time. During the novel, he ends up performing a concert of his songs for the whole fleet which allows for the "rag-tag fleet" to have some fun for a change. Peter also gets it on with Kara (aka Starbuck) who professes to having a huge crush on him when she was a teenager. This of course brings out an endless jealousy in Lee "Apollo" Adama, and it keeps you wondering if these two will ever get together.

However, Peter Attis has unknowingly started to spread a highly contagious, nerve-deteriorating Cylon biological weapon that will soon incapacitate the entire fleet. People start to babble incoherently and then drop into a coma, and then they later die. So it is up to Dr. Gaius Baltar and Dr. Cottle (always smoking a cigarette) to find a cure for this disease before the entire crew is left defenseless before the Cylons who just might be around the corner…

Steven Harper does a very good job keeping "Unity" within the same tone of the Sci-Fi television series. The characters and their situations are for the most part very realistic, and some of the conflicts the characters go through are fascinating. There are many different things going on in the book, but it is never confusing, and we can follow each plot thread to its conclusion without scratching our heads. In addition to Peter Attis being rescued from the Cylons, we also have the Galactica crew harvesting algae for conversion into food for the starved fleet, and we have Sharon (several copies of her actually) escaping her cage and creating havoc for the entire fleet as she threatens to blow up ships in one way or another.

The thing that I thought was the most interesting about this book was how it handled the realm of religion. When the virus ends up taking a major effect on the fleet, some end up seeing it as the touch of the gods that indicates that Peter Attis is the religious leader that will end up saving humanity. They see the virus not as a threat, but as a path to salvation. Here, Steven Harper brilliantly exploits how so many religious figures misinterpret religious passages or end up reinterpreting them to fit their own needs. So many people want to see that God sending them a message, and when something like this happens, we threaten to lose all objectivity as we see certain things as something more than they actually are. Even if the crew gets the cure, they will have to deal with a fanatical sect which will do whatever they can to prevent its distribution.

Like the show, "Unity" deals with the messiness of life and the constant battle between politics and religion. While the book more or less ends how you might expect it to, it does a good job of not making any resolution to the story seem neat. There is no happily ever after here, and no crazy beliefs can ever be easily squashed. There will also be some lingering followers who will believe only what they want to hear, even after the truth of the matter has been proven. The line between church and state continues to be eroded as time goes on, and it goes without saying that while the church and politics have to deal with each other, they need their boundaries (especially politics).

I also liked how the book delved more into Starbuck's character and how we see that she was abused constantly by her father as a child. This gives us more insight why she has problems dealing with people close to her (especially Apollo). She is always doing crazy things that spell out how self-destructive she can be, and how she doesn't always have the level of self-esteem that her ego implies. This may give the viewer of the TV show some more insight into her character when they watch (or re-watch) the episodes.

The only problem I had with the book was in regards to Sharon Valeri's character. There are some copies of her in the book, and explaining this without spoiling the book might be difficult, but I'll give it a try. Basically, the way her character's (or characters') journey is resolved at the end of the book almost feels like a cheat and comes off like a Scooby Doo ending. It all comes across as too convenient, as we know that the character cannot be simply done away with.

Still, Steven Harper's "Unity" is an exciting novel that kept my interest from beginning to end, and it may get me to read more "Battlestar Galactica" books in the future. I think it will certain please fans of the show as it does not take away from it in the slightest, and like I said, it will keep fans patient before the start of Season 4. As I write this, the season premiere is only a week or two away, and I still need to get through Season 3 and "Razor." Right now, it looks like there is no stopping the Galactica crew.

*** out of ****


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